The impact of Coronavirus on digital pollution

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The impact of Coronavirus on digital pollution

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘digital pollution’, it’s worth learning more before you switch on your computer, dial into your next video chat or hit send on that email.

The Coronavirus outbreak has completely changed how we all live and work. Almost everyone, except key workers, has been instructed to stay home and work remotely where possible. This has allowed many businesses to continue operating in some capacity, providing financial security and social connection for millions of working professionals. With various travel restrictions and social distancing measures in place, this could finally mean some positive news for the environment…

Potentially, but with so many people going online to communicate and socialise, are we simply replacing our physical carbon footprint with a digital pollution equivalent?

What’s the environmental impact of Coronavirus?

You’re no doubt already aware that every action we take as human beings has an impact on the environment. This is known as your ‘carbon footprint’ and refers to the volume of Greenhouse Gas emitted into the atmosphere as a result of actions on earth. Everything you do, from where and how you purchase food and dispose of waste, to the frequency and means of travel you choose, contributes to your carbon footprint.

The one positive news story to emerge from the Covid-19 outbreak is that a huge reduction in air and road travel has already had an impact on the environment. According to the BBC, “pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen across continents as countries try to contain the spread of the new Coronavirus.”

This is great news of course but it doesn’t tell the full story. According to the UN, we’ll need a 7.6% reduction every year to limit temperature increase to 1.5%.

As people continue to self-isolate in many countries across the globe, we’re all going online to work, socialise and stay connected. This means that video chats have replaced physical meetings and email has become an alternative to a face-to-face coffee. And that’s pretty important when it comes to digital pollution.

What is digital pollution?

Consider this… every time you send an email, you require electricity to power your device and a Wifi connection to contact the server that enables your email to be sent. These actions emit carbon into the air in the same way that physical behaviours do. This is known as ‘digital pollution’.

To put this into context,, the internet emits roughly 1bn tonnes of CO2 per year. Compare this to in 2019 where worldwide flights produced less, with 915m tonnes of CO2. If the internet was a country, it would be the sixth largest polluter in the world.

Not many people know too much about digital pollution and the fact that basic online actions such as sending emails, connecting to Wifi and leaving your laptop switched on can negatively impact the environment. We’re certainly not advocating that you scrap all emails, throw your laptop in the bin and invest in a carrier pigeon to deliver your messages! If everyone were to become more conscious in their approach to online interactions, we could significantly reduce the volume of digital pollution we’re creating on a daily basis.

How can I reduce digital pollution whilst on lockdown?

At Digital Detox, we’ve collated and shared our knowledge as a team about how to minimise our carbon footprint whilst working from home. Here are a few tips we’ve come up with.

1. Think before you send

The simplest way to cut down on your digital carbon footprint is to reduce the number of emails you send. You can go a step further by using links rather than attachments in messages and unsubscribing from spam emails. If you think about your email habits during the Coronavirus lockdown, it’s worth questioning how many of the emails you send have ‘purpose’. How many are simply sent out of politeness or for the sake of sending something?

2. Video vs phone calls, wifi vs server

Equally, while it’s very important to stay connected socially during the lockdown, it’s worth limiting your video chats and occasionally sticking to phone calls where possible. Split your online face time between work and social interaction, so you don’t end up spending hours gobbling up electricity, Wifi connections and server calls. Using a wired internet connection and making sure you update your software regularly will help too! Taking steps such as these can really help reduce the amount of digital pollution you emit.

3. Switch off when you can

In the UK, we are fortunate to be allowed out of our homes for focused exercise each day. Use this time wisely! Many countries around the world have far stricter lockdown policies that forbid people to leave their homes for anything other than scheduled trips to the supermarket or for essential workers commuting to work. For an hour each day, switch off your laptop, leave the house and enjoy a brisk walk around the block, a jog to the park or a spot of skipping, yoga or star jumps in your garden. Outdoor exercise is fantastic for your mental health and a great way to help reduce digital pollution for a portion of the day.

Statement Digital Detox

Can I calculate my digital carbon footprint?

Recently, we developed a prototype to allow individuals to calculate their carbon footprint. This was built as part of a wider project we undertook. Our user feedback testing told us that being able to calculate their carbon emissions in realistic terms, and see the impact in real-time, gave them a powerful incentive to change their behaviours and become more conscious regarding digital pollution.

Whilst this tool is not yet available to the public, it’s something we’ve developed for use within Digital Detox and is ready for a partner/client to collaborate on and make bespoke for their business. In the meantime, we’ll continue to spread the word on what digital pollution is and how businesses and individuals can take action to reduce their carbon footprint, especially during the Coronavirus lockdown.

A special note from Digital Detox:

During these uncertain times, we’d like to reassure all existing and prospective clients that we’re continuing to work as usual during the Coronavirus lockdown. Our biggest priority is the safety of our staff and clients, so we’re all working remotely for the foreseeable future. We are continuing to help businesses solve problems and unlock opportunities through ethical tech practices. If you’d like to discuss an idea or challenge you have, get in touch. and we’d love to help!